Most women start taking prenatal vitamins as soon as they discover they are pregnant, but the truth is prenatal vitamins and a balanced diet protect the health of your baby long before you even conceive. While a good prenatal vitamin is not a substitute for a healthy diet, the benefits to you and your unborn child are many.
Ensuring your body is at its healthiest before getting pregnant will provide your baby with the best possible start in life. It is recommended that you start taking a prenatal vitamin before getting pregnant to ensure you are getting all of the nutrients essential to healthy fetal growth and development.
The benefits of minerals like calcium, iron, and folic acid in particular cannot be overlooked, and a prenatal vitamin contains all of these in amounts that many women find difficult to gain through diet alone.
Prevention of Birth Defects
Prenatal vitamins have been proven to help prevent certain types of birth defects. In fact, taking a prenatal before and during your pregnancy can reduce the risk of birth defects by 50 – 70%. Folic Acid which is considered to be the most crucial of all as it helps to protect your baby from neural tube defects like spina bifida and anencephaly. These types of birth defects typically occur in the first 30 days of pregnancy at which point many women have yet to even discover they’re pregnant. Again, why it’s important to begin taking vitamins containing folic acid prior to becoming pregnant. In addition to providing protection from neural tube defects, folic acid is also thought to lower the risk of heart defects as well as cleft palate, and may also reduce the risk of preterm birth, and a condition called preeclampsia for Mom. Recent studies have also shown that children of women with less iron intake throughout pregnancy and breastfeeding had five times the risk of developing autism than those whose mothers had sufficient levels.
Added Protection Against Miscarriage
Some studies suggest a link between iron deficiency and miscarriage. Iron helps to build the placenta that supports and protects your baby throughout your pregnancy, and is also required to help structure fetal bones and tissues. Ensuring adequate levels of iron may help prevent preterm birth, and low birth weight.
Support Healthy Fetal Development and Protect Your Own Health
Minerals like calcium are required to support the development of your baby’s teeth, bones, heart, nerves and muscles. If you aren’t getting adequate amounts of calcium while pregnant, your own stores will be diverted leading to potential health problems for you as your body will automatically supplement your baby’s calcium needs by drawing it from your bones. This results in reduced bone density and puts you at an increased risk of osteoporosis. Pregnancy and breastfeeding place tremendous demands on your body and can also deplete your omega-3 fatty acids. Prenatal DHA can help replenish your levels of fatty acids which are found in high concentrations in your baby’s brain and eyes. Studies show that infants born to mothers with higher blood levels of DHA have advanced attention spans well into their second year of life. During the first six months of life, these same babies had attention spans that were two months ahead developmentally of those babies whose mothers had lower DHA levels.
Protect the Future Health of Your Baby
Prenatal vitamins along with a healthy diet may protect the future health of your child. Although a definitive link has not been established, there is some evidence that suggests a lack of essential minerals during pregnancy can be linked to cognitive deficiencies, impaired growth, as well as attention deficit disorders and behavioral problems.
Lactation and Recovery
Once your little one has arrived your body will need to recover. Since taking care of a newborn requires most of mom's energy, it's sometimes difficult to find the time to cook healthy meals. Keep easy, nutritious snacks around like fruits, nuts and fresh veggies to help fill in the gaps. For good milk production, women need plenty of water and nutrients to keep up with the demands of a hungry baby. It may not be easy to remember to take your prenatal once you are no longer pregnant, but it is equally as important as when you first started your journey into motherhood.
While prenatal vitamins are not meant to fully replace a healthy diet, they promote good nutrition to support a healthy pregnancy and ensure the proper development of your growing baby.